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Over the years I've learned team growth is continuous. It must be embraced as an ongoing process and is contingent upon analyzing and processing constructive negative feedback. And, when you are part of a team, there is no one else better to provide us with such feedback than our co-workers.

Feedback is neither easy nor simple for everyone to embrace. If you're not accustomed to it, giving and/or receiving feedback can be extremely daunting. But for a team to grow and be successful, regular feedback must be embedded within the organizational culture. When established as such, the benefits of effectively giving or receiving feedback can be enormous for both team and practice growth; on the other hand, the consequences of not providing feedback can be detrimental.

Whether you admit it or not we all have blind spots, and feedback from others is the key to seeing our flaws and faults so we can begin to learn and develop ourselves. Yet, as we desire to be known and understood by others, feedback can conflict with our self-image and the results can feel disorientating and impend our existence.

Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Have you ever wondered why it's easy to accept some people's criticism, while others may make you angry or dismissive?

People fall into one of two categories when it comes to mindsets – the fixed mindset or the growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset normally seek approval, whereas people with a growth mindset seek development.

If you find yourself of a fixed mindset, don't despair because it is possible to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, and the only reason why I can categorically say this is because I've done it.

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Inevitably feedback ranges from complaints to compliments. Either way, we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, while we judge others by their actions – and our judgments are seldom free from bias.

For example, a staff member performs a task poorly and is approached by another team member with manipulative insincerity saying it was adequate. Why does this happen? Because it's easier to say “it's adequate” than discussing what needs to be improved.

This ruinous empathy avoids conflict not out of laziness, but rather out of a misplaced fear of hurting an employee's feelings. Yet, the result of ruinous empathy is the employee (the team and the practice, too) will only suffer more due to a lack of improvement.

Skip the Feedback Sandwich

When a manager refuses to be critical of an employee whose performance is deteriorating out of fear of conflict, that employee will only grow more incompetent until the manager is forced to fire them.

To avoid this, a popular concept called the feedback sandwich is often utilized. The idea is when giving criticism, managers should sandwich it between two pieces of positive feedback – open with some praise, then offer the criticism, and close with some more praise to leave the person feeling good. It's based on the idea that it's easier for people to accept negative feedback when they also hear about what's going well.

By watering down the negative feedback, this approach can cause the real message to get lost. Often dentists get so concerned about being tactful with the staff member that their message gets diluted or missed altogether. Then you are left feeling frustrated that your feedback didn't work, and the employee didn't get the chance to hear that something needed to change. If you truly care about an employee, being honest is always in their best interest.

When it comes to embedding feedback into your organizational culture:

  • Make it a habit: Make sure feedback is a frequent part of your conversations among team members. If you debrief on what goes well and what could be approached differently, you'll notice how feedback stops being so emotionally charged on both sides. In other words, make sure it is part of the organizational culture of people helping each other.
  • Ask: Ask for feedback from teammates and ask them if they would like yours.
  • Offer no judgments: Be certain there is no blame or judgment; simply offer your observations.
  • Give positive feedback: Offer positive feedback as well as constructive feedback regularly.
  • Be specific: Don't be general or vague. The goal is for the person to understand and can gain from it.

When it comes to receiving feedback Tasha Eurich, author of best-selling book “Insight” recommends:

  1. Don't rush to react
  2. Get more data
  3. Don't be a lonely martyr
  4. Remember, change is optional.

Comfortably uncomfortable

Teamwork is the epitome of a winning organizational culture, and true teamwork means teammates helping each other. Timely and honest feedback, both offering and receiving it, is the essence of true teamwork.

It requires that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable while being committed to helping one another. Real success depends on how successfully we handle our failures. Success is not how little we fall, but how fast we get up. Getting up means each problem or each failure is an invitation to learn something we did not know before.

Summarizing, I am convinced both personal and professional growth stems from learning to feel comfortably uncomfortable.

Ricardo Mitrani, D.D.S., M.S.D., is a member of Spear Resident Faculty.


Commenter's Profile Image Mary Anne S.
July 1st, 2020
Ricardo, this was a beautiful piece. I can readily acknowledge that more often than not, the dentistry is the easy part of what we do...the psychology of the team and dealing with it is much harder. Your missive should give all of us much to think about and continue to reflect upon. Thanks for posting this! Mar